During World War II a group of Scottish soldiers were captured and forced to build the Burma Railway. Conditions were harsh, the guards’ treatment of the POWs was brutal and the death rate was high. Ernest Gordon, in his book ‘Miracle on the River Kwai’, recounts the true story of how at the end of a particular work party the guards counted the shovels back in as they did each evening; only on this occasion the count was short, a shovel was missing!
The officer in charge was furious and began ranting at the prisoners demanding that the person responsible for stealing or hiding the shovel should step forward. They stood silently in line; no one moved. Incensed, the guard shrieked “All die! All die!” and began to aim his gun at the defenceless men. At that moment one man stepped forward and the officer beat him to death right before the eyes of his colleagues.
The survivors were permitted to pick up his bloody corpse and carry him, along with the shovels, back to the camp. Here the guards carried out a second tool check and found that all the shovels were accounted for, there had never been a missing shovel! The first check point had simply been a miscount. News of the incident spread quickly through the entire prison camp. The realisation that an innocent man had been willing to die to save others had a profound effect, binding the prisoners together in deep loyalty.
Before his death Jesus told his disciples: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” [ John 15:13 (ESV)] He knew that he would shortly be betrayed by a friend, arrested in the middle of the night, stood before a kangaroo court and condemned to death on a cross. He also knew that he could turn and walk away from his destiny but he chose to embrace death. Jesus’ death is far greater than a good man dying for the benefit of others. At Easter, Christians across the world celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection; confident that in his death Jesus received the punishment that we deserve and so we can receive forgiveness, assured that through his resurrection the power of sin and death is broken and we can look forward to eternal life with him. Why not join with us during this Easter season and experience for yourself the liberation that Jesus offers you.
This blog post featured in the March 2013 edition of Hook Focus
He was a young man, still in the prime of life, strong, healthy, loved by his family and a wide circle of devoted friends. Although he was not married, as the eldest son, he had taken responsibility for helping his mother raise a family because his own father had died while he was still a teenager. Now he too was dying. As he bled and gasped for breath, he could see right into the eyes of the soldiers who had fatally wounded him. What goes through a dying man’s mind? Worries for his family? Concern for his friends? Thoughts about the purpose and meaning of his own life? Emotions towards the men who were killing him?
With the 11th November Remembrance events coming up soon, perhaps you thought this description was of one of the fallen from the 2 World Wars, or perhaps a soldier who has been killed or maimed in the more recent conflicts in the Gulf and Afghanistan. It is good to remember with gratefulness those who have sacrificed their lives and their limbs for the freedom we enjoy in this country. It is good to offer comfort and support for family and friends who have been left behind. It is good to pray that wars and armed conflicts will cease and that there will be peace amongst all the nations on the earth. You are welcome to join us for our act of remembrance which starts at 10:30am in the Elizabeth Hall on Sunday 11th November, when we will do just that.
In fact when I wrote those opening words, I had in mind Jesus hanging on a cross. Jesus, who looked into the eyes of his executioners and said “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”. Jesus, who spoke to his best friend and his mother saying “Son behold your mother, mother behold your son”. Jesus, who as he breathed his last breath gasped “It is finished”. He said this not out of a sense of resignation, but out of the knowledge that in his death his whole life purpose was accomplished. Only hours before, he had instructed his friends to remember his death as the means by which we can receive forgiveness. This November 11th, as you recall the sacrifices made by British servicemen to preserve our present life, allow your thoughts to go back a further 2 thousand years and remember Christ who died so that you too can enjoy eternal life.
This blog post featured in the November 2012 edition of Hook Focus
The cross is one of the most recognizable images worldwide. Worn as jewellery, even by those with no faith at all, and forming the basis of art and decoration in church buildings, the cross is remarkable because an instrument of tortuous execution has become a symbol of religious importance. The cross itself is no more than a couple of blood stained rough timbers but what it represents: the death and resurrection of Jesus is quite literally the crux of history itself. The message of the cross reaches out to us across 2,000 years and is as significant today as it was that first Easter.
In ‘Scandalous’ Don Carson applies his remarkable skill as a theologian and a pastor to help us look through the eyes of five eyewitnesses to these events, and help us understand the cosmic significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. This is a readable book that is accessible yet powerful in unfolding the eternal mystery of God’s love for people like you and me.
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Recently two women (Mrs Eweida and Mrs Chaplin) took their case to the European Court after they faced disciplinary action for wearing crosses to work. The British Government argued that Christians do not have a right to wear a cross or crucifix openly at work and claim that the two women’s application to the Strasbourg court was “manifestly ill-founded”. The fuss that has surrounded this matter has divided opinion in the UK, sometimes along unexpected lines.
Controversy has surrounded the cross ever since Christ was crucified. St Paul wrote: ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV) Crucifixion was a brutal form of execution that was designed to torture its victims as, over many hours, it led to a slow painful death, primarily through asphyxiation. Even among the Romans the cross was an object of horror, so for a Jew to declare that ‘it is the power of God’ is astonishing.
How is it then that something as unpleasant as the cross could become the symbol of God’s power and love? Paul’s answer is ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.’ 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NIV) If Jesus’ death on the cross had been the end of his story then he would have been just another forgotten Jew who died at the hands of the Roman occupation army. However, as millions of Christians will celebrate on Easter Day, Christ did not stay dead but resurrected from the tomb demonstrating his power over death, affirming his power to provide forgiveness. Christ’s resurrection transforms a rough wooden cross from being an ugly object of scorn into the glorious means of our rescue from sin.
The true mark of a follower of Jesus is not a cross worn around their neck but that the message of the cross has penetrated their heart. We invite you to join us this Easter Sunday as we celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ. Our prayer is that you too may know the power of God that is found in the message of the cross.
This blog post featured in the April 2012 edition of Hook Focus
The cross is one of the most recognizable images worldwide. Worn as jewellery, even by those with no faith at all, and forming the basis of art and decoration in church buildings, the cross is remarkable because an instrument of tortuous execution has become a symbol of religious importance. The cross itself is no more than a couple of blood stained rough timbers but what it represents: the death and resurrection of Jesus is quite literally the crux of history itself. The message of the cross reaches out to us across 2,000 years and is as significant today as it was that first Easter. These two books help us recapture the wonder and power of these historical events.
‘Living the Cross Centred Life’ by CJ Mahaney is radical in its impact. CJ’s stock answer to the greeting ‘How are you’ is ‘better than I deserve!’ Yet this response is not a clever platitude but a humble recognition that Christ’s death and resurrection has utterly transformed everything. CJ takes us to the centre of God’s plan to save his own enemies. He leads us through profound truth and helps us to see how that affects us day to day.
Buy Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing from Amazon UK
Buy Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing from Amazon US